When I was a wee lad, I was taken to a movie about a boy and his dog. It was a Lassie movie, I believe, although I was too young for that to mean anything. According to my mother, however, I cried so hard they could hear me in the back of the balcony. (All theaters had balconies in olden times.)
They don’t often make them like that anymore, but Steven Spielberg knows how. War Horse is a three-hankie movie if ever there was one. Based on a popular children’s book by English author Michael Morpurgo, and later made into a hit stage play (with life-sized puppets standing in for real horses), War Horse tells the story of Albert, a farm boy who grows attached to a horse his father buys to plow their fields. Albert names the horse Joey, and while Joey’s a thoroughbred totally unsuited to farm work, he comes through.
The family needs money, however, so when World War I breaks out, Joey is sold to the British cavalry. The story then turns episodic, following Joey through the hell of the conflict where he winds up on both sides of the trenches before finally…well, don’t expect me to give it all away. But you’ll need those hankies. I almost did.
While the war scenes here are stark, they’re not Saving Private Ryan horrific. But take the PG-13 rating seriously. And at about 2.5 hours, the film is also a bit too long for the young and the restless, regardless of content.
When I saw War Horse in the theater, I was blown away by the quality of the film-originated photography. The quality I saw there (in D-Cinema) comes through beautifully in this Blu-ray; it’s a first-class transfer. And while the audio is often more subdued than you might expect from a war film, it has its moments as well, particularly in the booming artillery and thunderous cavalry charges. In the quieter stretches—and there are many—John Williams’ superb, beautifully recorded score takes over.
War Horse is available in HD in two- or four-disc sets, both of which include the film on Blu-ray and DVD. But if you’re at all interested in looking behind the scenes, you must get the four-disc version. The extras in the two-disc set are good but limited. The extensive making-of featurettes in the four-disc package are not only outstanding in content but also presented in reference-quality, high-definition video.
Studio: Disney, 2011
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
Length: 147 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis